Posted by Philip Poole on 2008-10-25

Samford University's new football field house will be named for a prominent Birmingham family, university officials announced Saturday.

The Cooney Family Field House was made possible with a lead gift from Birmingham business executive and Samford graduate Gary Cooney, vice chairman of McGriff, Seibels & Williams, Inc., one of the nation's leading insurance brokerage firms. Cooney said he wanted to honor his parents, the late John and Patricia Cooney, and other family members with the naming.

"Our family has a long history with Samford, and my hope is that these gifts will encourage others to support this great university," Cooney said. "We have great confidence in the leadership of Dr. Westmoreland and our good friend, Coach Pat Sullivan, and we want to help have a positive influence on young student-athletes."

The two long-time friends – Cooney and Sullivan -- obviously have high regard for each other.

"Samford is fortunate to have someone like Pat Sullivan as a part of the university, and I believe that Pat sees Samford as an important part of his life," Cooney added.

"Gary has been a friend since childhood," Sullivan noted, "I'm always stressing the importance of relationships that last a lifetime, and he is a special person. He is a successful businessman for whom athletics was a tremendous influence on his life. With this gift, he is assuring that others have the same opportunity for athletics to influence their lives."

The announcement came during the university's annual Homecoming celebration, which included recognition of Samford's 1971 national championship football team. Cooney was a member of that team.

"Gary Cooney's commitment to his alma mater and our athletics program is very evident with his leadership gift for this project," said Samford President Andrew Westmoreland. "It especially is fitting that we can make this announcement on homecoming weekend when we celebrate alumni and when we are recognizing the championship team on which Gary played."

Cooney graduated in 1974 with a business degree. He currently serves on the university's board of overseers and the Brock School of Business advisory board. He was named the business school's alumnus of the year in 2002. His brother, John, graduated in 1971. Their father, John Burke Cooney, also contributed to the building of the field house. The elder Mr. Cooney died in May. A nephew, Riley Barnacastle, currently plays football at Samford.

The 39,000-square-foot building is being built at the south end of F. Page Seibert Stadium and is scheduled for completion in time for the 2009 football season. The building includes two levels of offices, locker rooms, meeting space, equipment storage and training facilities for football. A hospitality suite and observation deck will overlook Seibert Stadium. An unfinished third level will be used for future university expansion needs.

"Friends and alumni like Gary Cooney and his family are creating positive impact for Samford and our athletics program," said Samford Athletics Director Bob Roller. "This facility would not be possible without their generosity."

The $7.5 million project is being funded with private financial support, Roller noted.

The Cooney Family Field House replaces facilities in Seibert Hall that date to that building's construction in the late 1950s. Visiting teams will continue to use refurbished locker rooms and other facilities in Seibert Hall.

"Samford is one of Birmingham's crown jewels, and it is important to me that the community recognizes the quality of what this school can offer young athletes and all students," Cooney said. "What Samford is doing with the business school and other academic and athletics programs is outstanding."

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.